Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

Nesting Box Plans in SketchUp

SketchUp is a free and easy to use 3D modeling program. And users have created a library of 3D models you can download. Up until recently most of these models were not particularly useful to DIY urban homesteady types. Enter SketchUp model contributor Rick whose collection of models includes the chicken nesting box above, raised garden beds and a couple of other useful projects.

I’m really looking forward to seeing more open source project models like this and hope to contribute some myself. If you know of any other useful 3D models, leave a comment.

Hay Hooks–The New Hipster Accessory?

With so many city chickens I predict that hay hooks will become just as indispensable to the urban hipster as is the fixed gear bicycle. After years of hauling staw bales up the 30 steps to our house (to use as bedding for the chickens) I just broke down and bought a pair.

A vaquero at the feed store intervened with a neat tip when he saw me struggling to use my new hay hooks to load some bales into a friend’s truck. Here’s what he showed me. Note the red arrow in the photo above. Odds are with new hooks that this distance needs to be shortened a bit. My hay hooks were much easier to use after the feed store guy bent them using one of the anchor points in the truck bed.

In addition to the steps, my other reason for owning hay hooks is that I have to navigate bales down a narrow side yard. Hay hooks make the maneuver above a lot less awkward.

Now when will we see Bianchi come out with the hay hook equivalent of the Pista?

The Hen: An Appreciation

Reading the fine book, On Writing Well, I came across this passage by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) about chickens, proving that nothing ever really changes:

From “The Hen: An Appreciation,” which is found in the book of essays, The Second Tree from the Corner, by E.B. White, 1944:

Chickens do not always enjoy an honorable position among city-bred people, although the egg, I notice, goes on and on. Right now the hen is in favor. The war has deified her and she is the darling of the home front, feted at conference tables, praised in every smoking car, her girlish ways and curious habits the topic of many an excited husbandryman to whom yesterday she was a stranger without honor or allure.

My own attachment to the hen dates from 1907, and I have been faithful to her in good times and bad. Ours has not always been an easy relationship to maintain. At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and the police to recon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville….Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen. I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. Now it is my turn to wear the smile, as I listen to the enthusiastic cackling of urbanites, who have suddenly taken up the hen socially and who fill the air with their newfound ecstasy and knowledge and the relative charms of the New Hampshire Red and the Laced Wyandotte. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen was hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India.

To a man who keeps hens, all poultry lore is exciting and endlessly fascinating. Every spring I settle down with my farm journal and read, with the same glazed expression on my face, the age old story of how to prepare a brooder-house…

I do believe I have seen that exact same glazed expression on Erik’s face as he peruses Backyard Poultry Magazine.

Sunday Spam: Automatic Chicken Cage

We interrupt the usual picture Sunday feature to bring you the best and most misdirected spam email that has ever graced the Root Simple in-box:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Liaocheng Dongying Hengtong Metal Manufacturing Co.,Ltd here. Glad to hear that you are on the market for Automatic chicken cage. We are a professional producer of the complete sets of equipment for raising birds. At present, it is an enterprise which has the import-export license and exports a batch of complete sets of automatic equipment for raising chickens.

These products gained good prestige among customers and they are not only used in great-scaled biological raising farms in domestic provinces, but also exported to Middle Asia, South and East regions, Australia, South America, Middle East areas, Africa mainland and so on in great lot. We are willing to wholehearted with all the friends and customers to establish good relations of cooperation, realize a win-win benefits, and create a magnificent performance. If any interest, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,
Senior Sales Manager,
Fatma

Clearly a product that’s not a win-win for the chickens, but thank you “Fatma” for providing us with some much needed scratch for the blog.

The Perfect Chicken Coop?

Do a Google image search for “chicken coop” and a solid majority of the results will look very much like this nearly 100 year old coop featured in The Gardener’s and Poultry Keeper’s Guide and Illustrated Catalog. Why is this basic design still with us?

  • The attached run gives chickens some space to scratch around in while keeping them safe from predators if you can’t make it home by dark.
  • You can hang a feeder in the space under the hen house to keep their feed dry.
  • The run is tall enough to stand in.
  • You can put an access door to the nesting box from the outside so you don’t have to go in the coop to collect eggs.
  • It has a roof over the run to keep your chickens dry.

It’s the basic form I used for our coop with a few refinements–I ran hardware cloth under run to keep out burrowing predators. I also extended the run to keep the chickens from pecking at each other (the more room they have the better).

To paraphrase Nassim Taleb for the second time in a week, if a given design has been around for at least a hundred years, the odds are it will be around for many more years. While this particular arrangement may not work in all situations (mobile runs or “chicken tractors” may be a better option for some), this coop design does have a lot going for it for us urban dwellers.

Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip! 

Urban Chickens and Lead

From the One More Thing To Worry About department, the New York Times has an article on lead levels in eggs laid by urban chickens “Worries About Lead for New York City’s Garden-Fresh Eggs.” According to the article, the lead levels found in New York City’s home grown eggs ranged from none to over a 100 parts per billion. Since the FDA does not have an acceptable lead level in eggs it’s difficult to interpret the results. And I have to wonder what unknown problems lurk in industrial eggs.

It’s a reminder that those of us who live in older cities and grow food need to confront the lead problem. Personally, I’d also like to see the Real Estate industry come clean on this issue beyond boiler plate disclosures buried in sales documents. But I’m not holding my breath.

Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

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